Balotelli, a delight to watch on field

The Italian stands 6ft 3in and has an attitude just as striking. He joined Manchester City two years ago when Jose Mourinho swore he was impossible to manage and since then Mario Balotelli has done nothing to make anyone think Mourinho was wrong about a football subject for the first time in his life. By Ted Corbett.

When Brian Lara dropped out of my line of vision — that is to say retired and spent much of his time relaxing, a favourite word in his home island of Trinidad — I wondered if there would ever be another sportsman who would capture my imagination as he did.

My fascination with Lara began simply because he was clearly an enormous talent, who made runs when those around him were failing, who wanted to be known in a wider world and whose long distance scrap for fame with Sachin Tendulkar was evidently going to dominate the headlines for 20 years.

Two world records later he now spends his time — to judge from a glimpse I caught of him at Lord’s this summer — putting on a little weight. I’m pleased to see it. He deserves the best, like that house built on land granted to him by the government after his 375 off England’s bowlers, a family to cherish and on-going good fortune.

As for a successor, now that Lewis Hamilton, the GP driver has not lived up to his all-conquering ambitions, and Tiger Woods has shown us his true self, I am sure I have found him.

Once again he is an imperfect young man, but fast and skilful and hard-working and surely in time, the leading light in his chosen world.

Mario Balotelli, a black Italian stands 6ft 3in and has an attitude just as striking. He joined Manchester City two years ago when Jose Mourinho swore he was impossible to manage and since then he has done nothing to make anyone think Mourinho was wrong about a football subject for the first time in his life.

Balotelli has crashed cars — but hey, every footballer crashes a car or two. He has bought lots of clothes; so he wants to look as smart as every other Italian. He spends money wildly but of course he has plenty in every pocket not to mention his bank, his wallet and, if I judge him correctly, his fridge, his washing machine and his garden shed.

He appears on the front pages of the tabloids with pretty girls, uncrushed cars and emerging from night clubs on the eve of matches he ought to rate important.

From time to time his manager Roberto Mancini drops him from the City first team, to teach him not to get booked or sent off or for failing to treat opponents, spectators and everyone else with respect. Mancini is clearly driven to the limits of his patience by this idiot boy’s bad behaviour but at times I see the shadow of a smile cross his lips and imagine he is thinking: “Oh, boy, just wait until this little lad grows up.”

Balotelli created goals ahead of his semi-final showing which must have made angels dance, heavenly choirs sing and paradise come to life.

I sat down to watch Italy against Germany with the words: “I just want a moment of greatness from Balotelli” and within 20 minutes my dream had come true.

First, he leapt and curled himself round a German defender and headed the ball into the top of the net; five minutes later he picked up a long pass and slammed a 25 yard shot so violently that the goalkeeper was left grasping air.

From that point there was barely any point in continuing the match. The Germans, efficient, pre-planned and determined were undermined.

In the final, won by Spain for the third time in succession (including the World Cup), Balotelli was lost in the midst of the Spanish inquisition by cleverly devised passes, hard running and their ability to find open spaces against Italian defenders who can, and sometimes do, achieve 0-0 draws from the kick-off.

I am sorry to say I expected nothing else. This lad is not yet 21, he has much to learn and like many another striker he can spend many a lonely match remote from his team-mates, waiting, hoping, praying for the pass that will send him heading for goal.

Besides the Spanish are that good nowadays. Within my memory they were the national side that could hardly think of winning a match; club football was their reason for living, their sole focus.

They have made their transformation into a national side full of stars, heading — I have no doubt — for the World Cup in two years hence.

England are just the opposite. Manchester United, Liverpool and now Chelsea are among the great club sides of the world yet the English footballers always seem to falter at the quarterfinal stage. They rank in the first ten of world sides but that is where they finish. They are comfortable in the last eight of any competition but the top four is too much to expect.

Why?

Some say that the English footballers need to subtle touches of their great foreign club mates to back their hard work, their innate soccer sense and their willingness to die for the cause. Football is now so lucrative that it attracts boys who might otherwise head for university, the City, politics, banking and, yes, even journalism.

It is such a good career choice, with clever management, a decent pension, and plenty of ways of earning a few pounds apart from kicking a ball around that no father would dare tell his son that the scout rapping on his front door should be sent packing.

Will any of them be the new Balotelli? Don’t ask silly questions. Not one chance in 100,000!